The primary laboratories on the Reynolda Campus — Winston and Salem Halls — received unique overhauls over the last two years, reducing the negative environmental impact of the university’s scientific research by cutting back on chemical and exhaust waste.
The Salem Hall exhaust system, a 20 year old mechanical system that constantly replaced the potentially chemically polluted air in the laboratories with freshly conditioned air, was finally replaced with a new energy efficient system. The new system uses a heat exchanger to recover energy from outgoing air to heat incoming air during the winter and to cool incoming air during the summer, decreasing the amount of energy required to maintain climate control in the labs.
Better controls also contribute to the system’s increased energy efficiency. Rather than running continuously, 365 days a year, the new system can be set to monitor occupancy and environmental conditions in the lab so that it only operates as needed. All told, the increased efficiency of the exhaust system is estimated to save the university $200,000 annually in fuel costs, a full 3 percent reduction in the total energy consumption of the university, according to Facilities and Campus Services.
The university lab facilities are seeing a huge reduction in waste in another sector as well, that of chemical waste. When used and un-used chemicals are no longer needed, they are traditionally packed into “lab packs,” large barrels holding small amounts of separated chemicals as well as an absorbent buffering material. These lab packs are highly inefficient from a waste disposal standpoint because they require a huge amount of energy to transport, for very little benefit. Much of the weight transported in the containers is actually just packaging and buffer material.
Upwards of 80 percent of the chemicals usually packed into lab packs can safely be combined without the need for a buffer. The combined liquids can be disposed of in 55-gallon drums that can be safely disposed of at a cement kiln where they are used as a fuel in place of natural gas or coal. This process does not produce hazardous waste ash, unlike normal incinerators.
By switching from primarily lab packs to new hazardous waste minimization practices, the university reduced the amount of lab pack waste by over 98 percent in two years. At the same time, total hazardous waste shipped from the university has been reduced by 30 percent, according to the Environmental Health and Safety office.
Caitlin Brooks, Communications and Outreach Intern